Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer Exchanges Correspondence With NYPL President Anthony W. Marx About Sale of SIBL, (And Emails Constituents About It DURING City Council Hearing)

Borough President Gale Brewer's Dec. 10th email communication to constituents concerning the sale of SIBL sent during the Dec 10th City Council hearing about, among other things, library sales like SIBL
Borough President Gale Brewer recently emailed constituents and library lovers to provide them with her exchange of correspondence NYPL president Tony Marx (her October 15th letter to him and his November 6th letter back) wherein he informs her that he is still planning to sell of the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL, at 34th Street and Madison) although “no final decision about sale or lease has been made.”

The email came on the very same day and actually during the New York City Council’s December 10th hearing about the future capital funding models for New York City libraries that focused among other matters on the possible use of self-cannibalizing library sales and redevelopment deals to do so, which is how the idea of selling the quite recently completed (1996) SIBL originally came about.  (For a number of us our email from Borough President Ms. Brewer came at 1:49 PM as we sat in the hearing that began as scheduled at 1:00 PM.)

The plan to sell SIBL first materialized as part of the ill-advised $500+ million Central Library Plan, a scheme for the consolidating shrinkage and sale of libraries that  Citizens Defending Libraries helped to derail.
The view of us in the hearing (when Ms. Brewer's email was sent to us) that Culture Chair Jimmy Van Bramer tweeted, during the hearing, this photo of what it looked like from his vantage saying "No surprise to see packed house."
At the hearing some of those lucky enough to be already knowledgeable enough about enough of the facts were testifying against the sale of SIBL among other things.  Examples:
Veronika Conant:
    4.  Do not sell SIBL (the Science, Industry & Business Library) at 34 St & Madison Ave, created in 1996 for $100 million, expensively furnished, already wired and equipped with hundreds of computers. It can become a perfect Computer Center. Five floors had already been sold for over $60 million. All it needs is longer opening hours than the present 51 hours per week, a relatively inexpensive investment. (By comparison, Mid-Manhattan is open 88 hrs per week).

    Do not sell any public libraries at a time when more people than ever use them.
Charles Warren:

    . . . . I represent the Committee to Save the New York Public Library (CSNYPL), a citizens group that has sought to keep the popular Mid-Manhattan Branch as a library rather than a real estate deal, keep three million books in the stacks of the Central Library at 42nd Street, and maintain the Science Industry and Business Library (SIBL), the library closest to the CUNY Graduate Center.

    The NYPL Midtown Campus includes the Central Library at 42nd Street and the Mid-Manhattan Branch, but it fails to mention the Science Industry and Business Library, (SIBL) just a few blocks away.

    Will the city council follow the old pattern where it grants $151 Million for a vaguely described plan being developed in secret? We need to know what our tax dollars are paying for. We must not stand for a partnership where the money is public and the decisions are private.

    Just last week NYPL conducted a survey about plans for the Midtown Campus, but the survey omitted key questions. They did not ask:

        •    Does it make sense to leave the stacks empty for want of modern climate controls?

        •    Which Midtown Campus building is best suited to which library service?

        •    Should SIBL be sold or made part of the Midtown Campus?

        •    What balance should we strike between books and electronic services?

    Instead, all the poll questions were skewed to avoid these important choices and reinforce a narrow set of pre-determined outcomes. This cannot be presented as meaningful public consultation.
Picture from the site of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library of a panel testifying against library sales that included Veronika Conant (far left) and Charles Warren (thrid from left) reading testimony
Notwithstanding, that Mr. Warren was testifying about the treacherous inadequacy of the survey respecting the sale of SIBL, Ms. Brewer’s simultaneously arriving email encouraged constituent input about the sale of SIBL through that same defective NYPL survey that doesn’t mention the NYPL effort to sell SIBL. . . .

. . . . We think that constituent input to Ms. Brewer may be more effective.  In here email She promises to she will be watching and reporting on the situation. Contact Ms. Brewer at 212-669-8300, gbrewer@manhattanbp.nyc.gov. . . .

In fact, In his letter NYPL president Marx says requests Ms. Brewer’s feedback and we don’t believe she can properly give that feedback without first hearing from the community to know what it thinks. 

One thing worth pointing out is that, like a broken record, testimony of those featured at the City Council hearing (by Chair Jimmy Van Bramer) emphasized repeatedly that libraries around the city need to be rebuilt as part of redevelopment deals because so many do not have enough electrical outlets (or computers), but the one New York City library, SIBL, where such a lack is most assuredly not a problem is a library that the NYPL is prioritizing for sale as part of one of these redevelopment plans!. .

This is absolutely beyond belief!

For ease of reference (and so that it can be easily Googled) here is the text of Borough President Gale Brewer’s email to constituents and the correspondence (available from her through the Tumbler links she provides) she exchanged with NYPL president Marx.  (And for Gale Brewer's earlier letter to President Marx furnished to constituents see: Thursday, April 3, 2014, March 25, 2014 Letter From Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to NYPL President Anthony Marx About NYPL's Proposed Central Library Plan.)

Borough President Gale Brewer’s December 10th email to constituents (emphasis supplied):
Dear Friend,

As part of my ongoing effort to ensure that the concerns of New Yorkers are addressed in the New York Public Library's development plans, I want to share my recent correspondence with Dr. Anthony Marx, NYPL President and CEO.

I wrote Dr. Marx to determine the sale or lease of the Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL) on E. 34th Street, and he confirmed that the 34th Street location will be sold or leased and that the SIBL will move to the Midtown campus. He also expressed his commitment to "working closely" with the community to help shape plans for that campus.

In the middle of her email Ms. Brewer included this visual and links to her Tumble posts to view either the her October 15th letter to NYPL president Marx and his November 6th letter back
I'd also like to encourage your input on the Midtown campus by taking the Midtown Campus Survey on the NYPL website. You'll be providing the NYPL with preliminary input on the services and programs that you believe are essential to a vibrant and thriving Midtown campus.

I will make every attempt to keep you informed during this process and provide additional information as it becomes available. Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of our public libraries.


Gale A. Brewer
Manhattan Borough President
Borough President Gale Brewer’s October 15th letter to NYPL President Marx:
October 15, 2014

Dr. Anthony Marx
President and CEO
New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018

Dear Dr. Marx:

    I write regarding the New York Public Library's revised Central Library Plan announced June 1, 2014. I, along with thousands of others, applaud your decision to extensively renovated rather than sell the Mid-Manhattan branch.  The proposed computer lab and the expanded adult education facilities will create a vibrant place for the many New Yorkers who depend on the library for education, advancement and community. In your plan for the 42nd St., Library you have struck the right balance between expansion and preservation.  You have committed to expand the space available within the building for public programs with an eye to leveraging the Library’s collections and sharing more of the Library’s treasures. (I find the proposed Education Corridor particularly exciting, for educators and students alike). Most importantly, you have preserved the library as an architectural treasure and one of the really great research centers of the world.

    Of particular concern, now, is the proposed disposition of the Science, Industry and Business Library, and integrating the SIBL collection into the 42nd Street Library. Is the space at 34th St. which the SIBL now occupies currently for sale? If so, when might it be sold, and how will the relocation of SIBL impact the services which many New Yorkers currently rely?

    I hope you will join and/or sponsor a focused public discussion I can help shape how the library I will move forward with its plans. Please let me know how I can be helpful in facilitating that discussion, and supporting the improvement of the library and its services.


Gale A. Brewer

NYPL President Marx’s November 6, 2014 letter to Borough President Gale:

November 6, 2014

The Honorable Gale A. Brewer
Office of the Manhattan Borough President
1 Centre Street, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10007

Dear Borough President Brewer:

Thank you for your letter regarding the libraries revised plan for our midtown campus. We are tremendously grateful for your support and advocacy and look forward to working closely with you and the community as we move forward with this exciting project.

As you note in your letter, the overall plan for the campus calls for a large expansion of educational programming, exhibitions, and ways to experience our existing collections, including spaces for educators and students. Simply put, the core functionality of the Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL) will neither be lost nor diminished. It will, in fact, be enhanced by its connections to these other facets of our campus.

The services and collections available at symbol–  which today focus primarily on supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses, investors, and job-seekers– will be fully integrated into our new midtown campus. We are currently in the process of planning for the spaces and programs and will be sharing our thoughts with you and the community in order to hear your feedback. As part of the renovation plan, we will sell or lease the building that currently houses SIBL, although no final decision about sale or lease has yet been made. This will allow us to create 50% more public space in the Schwarzman Building and a net increase of 40,000 square feet of public library space throughout the campus. We believe locating SIBL in the campus will strengthen the Library’s overall program, and that this move will substantially increase the use of SIBL’s collections, programs, and services, just eight blocks north of its current location.

As we move forward with planning, we look forward to working closely with you and the community to help shape our plans for the Midtown campus, which will include focus discussions. We are hosting similar conversations for the current branch construction planning (mostly for a new branch in Staten Island and for a renovation and Roosevelt Island) and deeply appreciate the community feedback we've received.


Anthony W.  Marks

Hearing montage: Obviously large crowd, Culture Chair Van Barmer and library subcommittee chair Costantinides center, and the very much featured Center For an Urban Future Report writers David Giles and Jonathan Bowles 

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